It's that time of the year when I willingly allow myself the experience of surrounding myself with people in pews, with tiny pencils poking out of their little wooden homes, along with envelopes begging for money so close to people's knees. It's always been like this, too. When I was younger church made me uncomfortable; I knew it wasn't me. Now, if I I'm not in a chapel, I'm listening to ambient chamber music, something soft and forgettable, while I read or write. Also, I don't sing. People with ears don't want me to. But, it's Christmas, and I'm meant to take part in something pious and public, and that's probably because extroverts run the world. For a long time I thought it was Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, but it was just me. Well, me versus the culture I found myself in: the world of extroverts.
When the first plume of steam bloomed and stained the sky at the dawn of the industrial revolution, everything changed for introverts. It was no longer who you were, it was who the knew; it didn't matter what you knew, or how much you were willing to learn, it became how you could sell what you knew. In Susan Cain's Quiet, this is where her research begins: decades of it that Mrs. Cain combed through to find herself, to find us: the readers. It's hard to not think like that, though, especially after finishing Quiet. “This is me. This book is me,” you will say.
One will also get the sense that everything in the book is common sense, but the science of common sense is revolutionary when you examine the Kagan studies, which show the differences between temperament and personality: temperament is inborn as opposed to personality, which is cultural. With all the information, statistics, case studies and names, Susan Cain successfully traces the germ of our sick culture: ourselves, and our idealized Western version of extroversion. Even as toes are stepped on and cultural monoliths are spit on, Mrs. Cain writes in an easy and reaffirming style. She is no iconoclast, though, even if as she examines the cult of personality, she offers the best kind of hope: finding out who you really are in a world that is run Tony Robbins and his anti-literary acolytes. But the difference between introversion and extroversion isn't intelligence, it's simply how we function: what we do and how we do it. No child or worker should be punished for how their brain works, and once a reader realizes that, there's no way to leave that information back in the book's pages. It's taken with you.
A question that I have dealt with from childhood wasn't answered, though. What would happen if introverts ran the world? When I briefly attended a faith-based private school for one year of elementary school, the students were expected to learn at their own pace, in their own private cubicles. Results were varied. Brilliant children read at middle school-levels, and some who could not spell if their short, little lives depended upon it. For me, I was learning boredom at my own pace and daydream at my own leisure. Even a chapter devoted to something like this would affect the book's cohesion, so this is not a criticism, it's just what I brought to the book as a reader: my own story, which is antithetical to America's one-size-fits-all, extroversion-focused education system.
Other than it being hard not to be hard on American culture, as one reads Quiet, it becomes impossible not to believe that if the world ran out of extroverts, all those left over would miss would be financial collapses and cocktail parties. With that realization, the subjects run a bit dry. And for good reason: about the middle section of the book, gears shift to the people who run the world—bankers and humans of that kind of tribe. Perhaps the most important topic in recent history is the Great Recession, but hedge funds, FUD, bankers, General Motors don't have that glow and glamour that studying children or talking about artists does. Then, Mrs. Cain discusses cultures and racial stereotypes—introverted Asian cultures amidst extroverted American germ cultures.
Finding yourself in a book is why we read, but it's rare that you yourself are studied in a book: what you think of as a soul, an intimate part of yourself, dissected in pages and explained by various neuroscientists and physiologists. Quiet offers more than a dozen studies and tests—quick moments that do not distract from the reading in the slightest. In fact, they aid in the process. Finding ones core, who they really are, is a definite goal of the book. Chances are, though, if you're reading a book titled Quiet, with the word introvert on the cover, you know who you are and what you are. Here's hoping, at least, since 1/3 to 1/2 of all of us are introverts.
Quiet's most salient theme is certainly family—family and chocolate: simple, private pleasures. Susan Cain's love for both children and communication will have a profound impact on any reader, mother, father, educator, or someone who thinks children, for them, are as far off an the next millennium. Along with aiding in an affirming future, it's comforting to honestly feel that being either and extrovert or an introvert is neither good or bad. Neither one is pro- or anti-social; a person is neither hindered or haunted by their introversion. By the book's end, there has been ample time to reflect and know how you're wired so you know where you're headed when your personality wills you somewhere. Finding your passion is what Mrs. Cain challenges the reader with, as if it's something no actualized person can be without. And it's true. Knowing yourself—as well as the other people who pollute or populate the world, and whittling their crass or careless words down to raw emotion: the catalyst of our lives, how we relate to our lovers, friends, children, and finally, to ourselves—is the book's endgame. Quiet teaches that the learning curve to understand people isn't too far around the bend, so we should stop trying to hold others back: keeping them from exploring themselves, even if its far away from the only world we know.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a holiday party to head off to, where I will eat enough to not be able to to talk to anybody, then drink enough to talk to everybody.
These poems, along with the collection's two prose pieces, will make you drunk enough to dance on a table, but then shame you for enjoying yourself so much. But if Otherwise, Soft White Ash teaches a reader anything, it's that there's no shame in joy and you should find joy in realizing shame, and then, no matter if it takes generations, change. Kelli Allen refers to her book as a "creature." What does that make the poems? Little monsters? Unmanageable beetles eating away at a godly burning bush? Beaten bastards that you feed fish heads in the attic? They're not, though. Our poetess made sure of that. They're fireflies that give off an unnerving amount of light, more than our glow-in-the-dark watches and bright ideas illuminate; they're flashes that make sense of the world, but even that is not necessary. (P. 71) This creature, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, will drain your veins and give you life to go on, and on, and on.
The collection is a tree branch broken in four places, four parts that each map the narrator's poetic life, or the poet's life in narrative form. Imaginary happens before language, and "we look for fragments." (P. 3) The narrator connects with her foiled foil relationship with her own mother, "an aging princess from a less European story," a character and person the narrator is inspired by and model herself after, only to have to sift through the wreckage of her own unlovable and insurmountable flaws. Both the author and the narrator never sit in judgment of the mother. I can say that I would have, and lesser writers would have too. It's brave to dance that close to death, but when it lies in your own arms, you learn to love its familiarity and distance yourself through remaining familiar with deep gloom. The closest to an honest judgment in this section is the loaded image and archetype of Guinevere, a great harlot and childhood hero.
"Part II: Making the Mouth," is narrated by a woman who exists in her own world, apart from divorced parents, under the waters of poetry. A remarkable poem, and the collection's longest, "Amputated Landscape, Closer to Getting There" is nothing but colorful and clinquant ars poetica--nothing but bliss in stanzas.
I will scrawl
the words of imagined encounters,
looped letters spelling obscenities
and doodles birthing tiny penises
and breast after breast. (P.28)
Soon, thought, the relations with art become more complicated when more and more people come into play, but complications and interactions with people make for good poetry. "There is guilt/ in going home. Circles/ stay closed, expansion/ in uncertain" (P. 53). This second section of the collection relates to various anxieties through shapes: circles, recycled life--the shapes of faces, nipples and the geometry of lives circling the drain. "Strangle" shows a narrator seeing circles like a satanic Fibonacci sequence everywhere, like they're the architecture of evil. But then the creatures come and salvation is found.
how horrible I have become
that I want to hurt you, collect
full-fisted clusters of sand
to rocket hard in your mouth
and eyes. (P. 58)
Before moments of safety and rumination are introduced, as in "Heritage" and "Home, Passing Through Conversations," the world becomes a shapeless but capricious wonder, with butterflies and frogs, as exciting as Kelli Allen's well-written lines: spontaneous, seeping everywhere, flying everywhere, sometimes into car grills, into dog mouths, or happy to land on our kneecaps. "All symbols reflected after the tale is worn." (P. 61) Through a worn tale is a narrator who is as ever-present as Walt Whitman, standing by each one of us until the sun is a chunk of charcoal in the sky, and who wants us, like her stories, to fall on the ground and grow, like seeds. Her seeds. "Soaked Thunder You" is written in the tradition of the ubiquitous poet; Kelli Allen is fifteen roses under our dark, dusty beds, as we're the creeps opening her beautiful book, but it's too late for us: we're dried on the vine. Even if it was God's will, it's no one's fault, because your life, your blood, is on your hands, even if we're all fig trees, we should ripen and offer up good fruit for a god to suckle at.
As you dance under cloudless skies, still dodging lightening bolts and refusing to hide behind trees to laugh at gods, you'll mature. With maturity, comes adulthood, and purposely or accidentally, you'll spill and spread your seed; that's where Otherwise, Soft White Ash's third section, "Notes for Elijah," comes in, when new seeds have fallen and they have taken on their own life. This role replacement for the narrator, from daughter to mother, doesn't come without its dreadful interactions with the face of death; most saliently when it comes in the form of two things that are each a catastrophe to the poet: the failure of words and the failure of our seeds to take root, such as in the haunting poem "Taking Place." This is especially troubling to the narrator, because the poetess has become a garden; she's resigned to dirt.
"All matters belong to the realm of one's body." (P. 99) This myth comes to a close in the collection's fourth and final section, "One Final Wing." This section speaks in the most powerful and harmful way a woman can speak: through silence. Silent resentment, bare boredom with bodies, even after sexual experimentation; from fists to pillow talk, all that's left is "pretending to form consummation." This final section is, for most creative types, death. When introverts must become extroverts by falling in love and maturing, thoughts of isolation creep into their demiurgic heads. When they're alone, all they do is think about company and how to save love: how to drag an anchor around with as little effort as possible. That's love.
Otherwise, Soft White Ash is love; it's what goes into and comes out of a woman's body. Kelli Allen's creatures are monsters; they're as beautiful and frightening as nature, they are sublime gifts. As a poet, we don't talk to her, she talks to us. So let her in, let it all in.
If Earnest Hemingway wrote Nick Adams’ stories to commune with nature, No Other Way captures and catalogs what Hemingway’s character found totally holy. Between urban development and the wild; between catcalls, call girls, the cries of ambulances, and the call of the wild is where the reader finds himself in No Other Way, among wet weeds, under the shadows of birds that aren’t found on the lamps in grocery store parking lots. No Other Way is written in clean third-person prose and is satiated with scientific descriptions of what lives in our skies, and written by a man who obviously knows a great deal about our lush world as well as what’s above it, hovering in the skies, what thrives above car roofs, making a reader realize just how little they look up to see what’s looking down at them.
Following a proclamation of a nature-centered novel, what should be mentioned is that No Other Way makes moralizing about our sacred world entertaining. It’s a work that doesn’t resemble an episode of Captain Planet or a high-kitsch early nineteen-nineties’ kids’ movie. No Other Way relates to how its main character, Samuel Leaton, thrives in the outdoors, almost alone. Samuel is a nature photographer, a man willing to live off the grid with no cell phone reception or a prayer against indifferent serpents or accidents.
He kneeled in the dark space, took the small tarp from his rucksack and folded it atop the layer of pine needles. He tilted the mug, sipping the last of the coffee, including the crunchy grind sediment the filter didn’t catch. Some of it stayed on his tongue, grainy and bitter, before he swallowed it down. He put the empty thermos into one of the compartments before taking out the 200 mm long lens and clicking it onto his favorite camera, an older digital Nikon. The Nikon was a few inches bigger, and heavier than the newer models, and Samuel liked the sturdiness of it. He set the 300 mm lens on top of the pack where he could reach. The two plates of egg-and-bacon that he ate at the hotel would be wearing off soon. He took out two granola bars from the side compartment.
Waiting it out, leaning against the back of the old three-walled hunting station, he was grateful for the half-rotten, weathered structure that stood between him and the ptttt plunk plunk of the rain beginning to fall on the rusted roof.
He sat with his back against the shelter, his arms around his knees so only a few drops of the rain slanting down into the black soil splashed onto his boots. The wind came through in an unsteady whistle. It was high-pitched, silencing all other sounds, and then hesitant but rhythmic. Without the motion of the hike to keep him warm, the photographer of birds rubbed his hands together.
That lengthy excerpt is Samuel’s world: Nikons, cups of coffee and rain drops. Samuel is a man who has lost human interaction after his wife, Lorine, died of cancer. He’s in hiding, in a manner of speaking. After his wife died, Samuel threw himself into his hobby, and embraced his love: nature photography, to seek out the countless mulligans in the form of birds. For Samuel, photography is a means to capture another sort of life, and capturing birds in his camera’s sensor means a life well lived. His main mulligan is the Northern Stilted Curlew, a bird thought to be extinct even by experts. Oh, you haven’t heard of such a thing? Get used to it. Bird names are dropped like famous names in a musician’s autobiography; in all that means a new reading experience: it’s something that most readers aren’t challenged with but are introduced to through Samuel’s references as he analyzes warblers, pigeon’s, rails, owls, sparrows, all aves nearly extinct to casually common.
Samuel’s son, Ryan, a college educated blue collar worker, says his father has his head in the clouds (pg. 16). But that’s where Samuel has found his own humanity and passion; this is affirmed by how Samuel studies the world both around and above him. Roger Drouin’s prose becomes encyclopedic as it explains the evolutionary trajectory of birds, and how Samuel feels close to his bird brethren, if only under the skin.
The bones are thin, hollow inside, filled with oxygen, and supported with trusses that keep them strong. The wing bones are fused to other bones to brace together the moving parts in flight and landing. Look at the bones of a bird and, although all stretched out, they will match a mammal’s skeleton. Side by side, compare those scientific sketches from college biology and see how the wings anatomically correspond exactly to each human bone from arm to the longest finger. But in birds, the bones are simplified, compacted so that the humerus, radius and metacarpals are welded into a single, pivoting elongated bone.
What makes No Other Way a genuinely standout novel is, other than the clean but vibrant prose, the book is written by an actual nature photographer as well as focused on one. Reading with one’s eyes is the great caveat of literature. Unimaginative authors cripple the world they wish to create by a broken vision, but here, the inhabitants of the world, both human and undomesticated are just as vibrant as the colors of birds contrasting in perfect ways. No Other Way becomes the reason why people will subscribe to National Geographic or watch Planet Earth: you want to see nature and have your senses assaulted by the natural world, Sun and all.
Samuel drank his coffee and listened to a Scarlet Tanager somewhere close by singing his high-pitched song of chip-churr, chip-churr, chip-churrr, chip-churrrrr. He looked up to try to glimpse the brilliant contrast of red and black, but he wasn’t surprised when all he saw was the thick green leaves. Despite the male’s vivid coloring, this tiny guy is difficult to observe because he will perch motionless for long periods of time, hidden deep in trees or bushes.
The morning sun painted the water a softer reflection of clouds and sky as he paddled out past where the water lilies grew by the hundreds, past the second island of trees, towards the eucalyptus strand that looked like feathers growing right up against the edge of the water.
Both Samuel and Ryan deal with Lorine’s death as they both suffer through civilization; both Leatons are as different as the weather can become in a single day: sunshine to sharp rain, a warm morning that dissolves into skin stabbing chill. They are juxtaposed characters: a jaded workman willing to set art aside while he survives his chosen life of manual labor, and his romantic father. Both Leaton’s are opposing characters, until all paths lead to Idaho, where Ryan brings along Karia, a pill-popping, PTSD addled mess, who lets the reader know that Ryan only sees his father’s birds as beautiful myths. In Idaho, there’s Thomas, a park ranger and friend of caribou and wolverines, and his partner, a life-saving mutt named Japhy. Thomas can’t sleep because he dreams of drilling—oil drilling. What he loves most, the Rilla Lakes, is being prepared to be penetrated by No Other Way’s corporate villain: Centur Corp., and its hydrofracking shale drilling methods—the Empire and their Death Star.
No Other Way doesn’t give a voice to the speechless, it sings for itself by capturing the beauty rustling right outside window, away from computer screens. One beautiful thing can stop the world; it doesn’t need protecting. Humans are what need to be protected from themselves and what comes natural to us. No Other Way tells a story of songs and squawks of things that existed before the noise that carries itself across our concrete country. Roger Drouin utilizes intuitive and meditative methods of descriptions to bring our afflicted world to life in text. He creates a world that croons the tunes of what was here before us and what will be here after us—what howls and serenades after our silence, when birds and wild creatures carol the Sun to cold sleep.
Here is a poet of America’s playground battle zones; his name is chaos and he is your friend. Actually, his name is Dustin Holland, and his collection Duckwalking Is The Only Way Out Of Armageddon looks into the glimmer of the gutter and sees something in the sick kaleidoscope worth sharing. This collection makes the modern mess primitive and evocative; accessible and compelling, even when it’s the end of world.
it’s hard to
play fiddle while
the world burns
sitting under a
in apocalypse gardens
with nothing to
“Acrylic Flowers,” P. 22
But it’s not fun, no matter what R.E.M says, because there’s no more poetry; there are no more words in an occult world—a constant unknown, a wilderness.
In Duckwalking Is The Only Way Out Of Armageddon, readers will find brave, self-conscience writing written in code, which builds mystic, poetic tales. And as with poetry, the content more than the sentence structure is what matters. In this book, readers will find an undignified life, the worship of idols—pop stars and superheroes—in convoluted syntax in a wrld of wrds—something like what’s found in text messages: shorthand for short sighted minds. A little grammar and a lot of images moves the book along with short, one word lines.
The collection not only embraces, if only to critique and chaff the age in which it was written, the writer lets the reader know that his age is a subject as well. In poems such as “Cartoon Villains,” “Steady,” “Lost In Looney Toons,” “Kid,” and the book’s title poem all foretell a playful apocalypse that will be carried out in the same carefree manner in which the young live their lives. There is an endearing self-consciousness in the collection; there’s a great deal of writing about writing: meta-poetry.
I am an enemy of the state
because my god is
the poem because
i don’t believe in violence
or green paper
“I Am An Enemy Of The State,” P. 34
Holland’s fathers are the Beats, and he recognizes and embraces the romanced ‘fifties in “Longmnt Poem,” which is aware of the way the world has been wound-up in the many decades since then. This, though, if the only hint of sentimentality in the collection: the freedom of the ‘fifties, when our brains saw better days.
Thankfully, though, Dustin Holland will be back.
I won’t move/ a gddamned inch/ until/
the poem/ is finished/ until the city/ is the poem/ is gd
(“And I’ll,” P. 14)
Readers should want to experience Holland’s paradoxical images again, because it’s rare, in Hollywood’s rotten years, that a person can experience only images as opposed to explained emotions; when our mind’s eye can set the scene to the tune of images: the disgust what we don’t want to see around us.
In a world where transsexuals are as common as streetlights, Walt Cessna makes William S. Burroughs look like Pat Robertson’s 1992 speech at the Republican National Convention. In the sixteen stories that comprise Fukt 2 Start With: Short Stories & Broken Werd a reader slums it through a world rotten with people poisoned by their own debauchery and excess, straight into their very bones and blood. The collection’s characters are only responsible for themselves, but the world they have submerged themselves into will cradle their addictions and habits, and we, as readers, are captivated by their suicides spelled out on white pages.
The Fukt stories are about what we do in our cities and to ourselves, not what they do to us or what’s done to us. If Holden Caulfield had starting dropping MDMA, he and his observations would fit right into the book’s literary world, which is the most perverse picaresque tale I have read in a long, long time. To the book’s credit, as well as to a chaste reader’s chagrin, it delves and dwells in delinquent psychology. From kid to a Special K. fiend, to total queer to questioning one’s own sexuality, such as in “Fukt 2 Start With,” where a narrator is visually lured to a woman, against his own instincts, who is the “walking embodiment of semen depletion.” (321) Even the excess is unsure of itself, especially when compared to “The Is Not A Love Story” where incest is as normal as any other relation any of these characters are capable of having.
“Guilty by Admission” is a story which sets the AIDS epidemic as a backdrop for Cessna’s collection, which is actually a contribution to those who didn’t see the virus take the shape of a “plague” as it’s called later in the book. A boy named Levi puts a pimply face to those afflicted, as well as the vile ways the disease spread through prostituted sex—all for his love of music. For his love of the song. For a collection falling under the critical banner of “queer theory” and written by a man writing about his own experiences, the stories in the collection feature numerous female characters, as well; each is a beautifully destroyed and hood rattish as the world around them will allow them to be, such as in “Head in a Hello Kitty Bag,” which is where I learned what happens to a man when they give their special lady friend strawberry-flavored douche for Valentine’s Day.
Although the cast of characters are unethical and immoral beasts out of cages, there are no villains in the stories, each person is a victim of themselves—the users and the used make up Cessna’s world. The closer to villainy they get, the campier they are, even a pissing-drinking pedophile named Michael who was
“Smiling like Cheshire Cat and wearing a pair of Power Ranger pajamas with the feet attached and the ass cut out. Silver sequins were plastered over his shaved eyebrows and a demented, clown-like mouth was painted on in bright red lipstick. He clutched a worn-looking, stuffed Smurf doll and held a rubber novelty axe which he kept hitting people over the head with.”
His story, “Dinner with Michael,” is a PG Wodehouse story, with names like club Slimelight and a transvestite named Olestra Lucille Stools, as well as a man named Spam Goodwin. But the whimsy stops there. The title character also keeps a posse of twelve-year-olds tweaked on ketamine so they’re always…willing and accessible. Still, through all his criminal activity he is nothing but a product and not a prophet of future kings of the streets and rave scenes.
Years of photography have given Walt Cessna great, observant eyes, and he uses them well in his stories. There’s no light at the end of any tunnel, but it’s a colorful trip along the way. Since I began with a sentence of pure but honest hyperbole, I’ll end with one. Walt Cessna keeps the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy, sets in on concrete, sprinkles it with Angel dust, and gives life to it with blood the color of bar light neon.
It’s hard to find a collection of poetry that borders on the nonsensical as well as the highly-imaginative, which seems to be poetry’s biggest problem. It’s either one or the other, or too bland to bother with. Poetry is doomed to be poetry, but it’s not a problem if a reader allows their sanity to circle the drain in The Last Man
, a collection of poems by R L Swihart, an author who isn’t afraid to close his eyes and write about the oblivion he sees: the confusion around him when his eyes are open.
Written in lines that stretch from margin to margin, the best way read The Last Man
is to remember the writers own line: “From every apostrophe, comma, and fact hangs a piece of rotting flesh.” “Two Cities (Morning)” There is a great deal of the conscious world in this book, but it must be unpacked because it’s not plotted for the reader. Most times, it’s a world that is comfortably morbid is its own vivacious spirit; “The Fortress” perfectly captures love’s happy and deadly isolation. “Eternal life is death” in “The Immigrant,” a poem isolated and erotically moonlit, as well as subtly sexual as an Egon Schiele painting.
Swihart makes surreal poetry not very pesky, but he makes it feel like riding the lightening it certainly is. Even if the poetry that isn’t visually startling, it turns out to be something a reader doesn’t walk away from with being, not repulsed, but affected, such as “The Rouge Ear” and “De Selby Is Surprisingly Silent on the Subject.” These moments do startle, but it’s obvious the poet has a subdued panache
for the arrested traveler, such as in “Attic Lit,” “En Passant
,” “Rifle,” “Somme de Destructions” and “M,” a poem that parodies the logic of a logical thinker and the steps they take to logical murder their own actions.
It might seem like the mind is a mess, but halfway through The Last Man
, the world around us seems to become a place filled with sharp and hungry horrors. In “Sanctuary,” even our homes hung with sweet water bird feeders become unsettlingly unsafe. And don’t try to go to the mall, where we only think it’s safe because it's where we spend money:That’s where it all came together. The white palace of fashion frenzy. The loud music to drive the frenzy. Two-storeyed goddesses to oversee the frenzy. Aspiring Sue Lyons preening beside whitewashed displays In addition he had to come back closer to closing time (I’m not privy to the excuse he gave the girls) and slip through the cracked door labeled EMPLOYEES ONLYA large black Sharpie obliterated John 3: 16 over a thousand times and replaced it with John 11: 35
And we weep too, just like Jesus in John and “A First Step.”
There’s no self-destruction in The Last Man
, our minds do it for us without our input or say in the insane matter. So relax and have a drink, think about God, and go mad. In the end, you’ll learn a lesson; it’s strange to know that were all always children learning lessons. When you read about it in The Last Man
, it’s surreal and hypnagogic, but then you realize “Many fairytales end in a wedding; this one ends in sleep.” The Last Man on Goodreads
'”Only rum is forever.” I agreed.'
This novel is sunstroke on paper. If Cormac McCarty’s Suttree is captured drunkenness, which I would argue this novel has that going for it too, then The Stars at Noon is the dried tongue, manic mindset of a desert wander twenty minutes before her brain stops functioning. If Graham Greene had ever shot heroine and gone on South American bender with in a Volkswagen, he would have written The Stars at Noon, the 1995 novel by Denis Jonson, which takes place in Nicaragua during August of 1984—a point when the entire region was tipsy with bad politics, bad money, but maintained the same level of bad people the human race is known for. It’s all Coca-Cola and Communists as the narrator heads for Costa Rica, occasionally living off of rice and beans and whatever rum a sweaty hotel happens to have.
Denis Johnson’s sentences make this story worth the read. Here is what a reader is in for on the first page:
I’ve always been the only patron in the McDonald’s here in this hated city, because with the meat shortage you wouldn’t know absolutely, would you, what sort of a thing they were handing you in the guise of beef. But I don’t care, actually, what I eat. I just want to lean on that characteristic McDonald’s counter while they fail to take my order and read the eleven certifying documents on the wall above the broken ice-cream box, nine of them with the double-arch McDonald’s symbol and the two most recent stamped with the encircled triangle and offering the pointless endorsement of the Junta Local de Asistancia Social de Nicaragua … It’s the only Community-run McDonald’s ever. It’s the only McDonald’s where you have to give back your plastic cup … It’s the only McDonald’s staffed by people wearing military fatigues and carrying submachine guns.
This is the same McDonald’s where the narrator went to the ladies’ room “doing nothing, only sweating—needless to say, I wouldn’t go so far in such an environment to raise my skirts and pee; and the walls were too damp to hold graffiti.” Although this is same girl whose wits have curdled by the Nicaraguan heat. Maybe. She’s a journalist who pretends to be a prostitute; or a prostitute who wants to be a journalist. Either way, she expects sex and to be paid for it, until she falls in love with an Englishman with a family and a history questionable enough for the CIA to want to chat with him under the Nicaraguan sun. The dialog in her head has either been eaten away by the heat or she doesn’t practice her language professionally, and instead only survives on sex and not conversation. She’s a victim of exchange rates, dirty sheets and the heat—that endless heat. She’s also a victim of herself.
The narrator of The Stars at Noon is a hard sell to most readers who want their narrators to be their special friends throughout the tale, a contemptible demand to make on a book. The heat makes her always feel naked, possibly due to sweat melding her clothing to her body, but we read her as naked and helpless, until she starts to talk, then our pity evaporates especially as her story begins to end and Johnson offers her some epiphanies—golden moments always wasted on the witless as those nostalgic for the good opportunities they squandered. Rum and good sentence are forever, enjoy both in The Stars at Noon.
Alberto Manguel loves to sit on his ass and read; he also loves to think about how much he sits and reads, or rather how
he sits and reads. He thinks about how
we all sit and read. Well-traveled, well-read and well-researched, Alberto Manguel writes “The Library at Night” not only from the view point of himself as a reader, but from how own person library in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. From here, a reader is taken east to the Far East, where libraries were once organized by social standing and class, then to Columbia, with its “donkey-libraries”—the BIBLIOBURRIO.
Mr. Manguel claims that in a library, humanity replies to the reader; in life, the detail of words kill us or show us God. A library is where we flourish or expire. More importantly, it is where we imagine when we want a place where memory is kept alive for community to interact with: a community of world travelers or those just down the city block. How to make this knowledge accessible—publically or private—has always been, until Dewey, a puzzle to be solved in dozens of different ways, from the ironically named “Atrium of Freedom”, which was highly contained and restricted to the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which is massive and circular, but nearly devoid of tomes and their tempting or enlightening texts, as well as the Freie Universität in Berlin
, which is built to look like a brain in the most intuitive of German engineering.The Library at Night
makes a reader bask in what we have and what we continue to build to save, but also what we attempt salvage and restore. The book is also a eulogy for all its fallen brethren of books which have been taken by the hands of men or the sands of time from readers. The sacking of Baghdad’s culture this very decade, the books Nazis sent to the flames this last generation, and Alexander’s great library that time itself seemed to have eaten alive, stones and all. Technology, too, is to blame. But my Kindle has given me Nabokov and Innersole, so I will pull that punch. Of all the losses and lamentations of past texts, Alberto Manguel shares a personal moment with his readers than only his library seemed to have known. He enjoys forgetting about his books. He revels in forgetting, just to select something by its spine, a curious title he bought on some adventure, to devour it and recall all the joy it brought him, then to forget about it once more. Reading is the only act where forgetting about something’s importance will only reinforce a future joy. This done again and again eventually changes a reader’s very memory; warps it in some form of addiction, which is to say, reading is the only forgivable vice.
In all the architecture and artistic achievement bound in the books which hopefully fill the library, I thought about how an obtuse theologian once told me that reading was derivative. After hearing this, I was angry, unfocused and incensed. But you know what? He’s right. Reading is derivative. So is life. Day in, day out, we live off yesterday, some more nostalgic than others. When it comes to reading, though, the goal is to find a new way to say what has been said before. And to follow the course of rivers, seeking only personal and wonderful things: the ancient commonsense things. As we do this, the library imposes control over the chaos we catalog.
FFing is a collection that could not have been written in any other time. The book is both the culmination of free love and free thought; at a time when the skin color of American’s has long since blurred together and both blacks and whites share last names. The book is back dropped to a country’s decade-long wars as well as to collectivized citizens fueled by antiquated faith—the same faith which gives FFing its title, Flirty Fishing, the Paulanian stance on Biblical evangelization: Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize! Women lure and flirt to get men to bite into their hooks—their bodies, but not their souls. Pious seduction makes the weakest of men faithful fishers of men. “This is power/ flirting but not fucking” (72) Good-natured Christianity teaches some ladies how to be sexy, and Meg Francis doesn’t give that dogma a moment to catch its breath as she beats it to damnation.
The narrator of Meg Francis’s collection is The Poison Sex Queen, a persona that appeared on the planet after her “sudden shedding of [her] unique organ” (23), to see the world around her in a new way as she “blooms out of reach of premature gardeners” (72). As the Poison Sex Queen leaves the “lukewarm seas” (22) of mediocre relationships in sweat-saturated sheet-less beds, she discovers that the world is in a constant rotation of ugliness and madness, while she reflects on her past, such as in “Not My Mother’s Suicide”, “Race Remix”, and “Caring for the Motherless”. The Poison Sex Queen grows into a human who still deals with the cant of her past the anti-Calvinistic appreciation of choices. “You learned how to ask rather quickly/ How fantastic/ Because I am so very sick of teaching/ Boys and men to act without shame/ (130) Both men and boys, it matter very little of the age because Meg Francis conquers the age of man’s sex.
As the first sentence said, FFing could not have been written in another time. Liberalization and progress along with economic situations keep people, no matter what color, on the streets together. But more importunately, the book could be about other location other than Texas. Meg Francis has an ear for the Southern twang and its special brand of code switching, as well as jargon and the vernacular of Southern boys driven insane by their body’s chemicals. Past patterns of speech, the state has a habit of exaggerating a writer’s rebellious mind, overhearing and capturing the lack of freedom and the repression of both society as well as the mind, but perhaps most of all, the body. Through sexual self-construction, still unable to rid her mind of indoctrinated cant—though the stance of religious faith morphs as the events in the book obviously advance with age—The Poison Sex Queen and her writer both have the luck of unluck of maturing in a nearly vibrating church pew in “Loosely Raised As A Witness”, as a young Poison Sex Queen devours the veneer of altar boys gracing a church stage. At a young age, she has already learned to love a man in uniform, which brings on a motif of the book, the American military man. With the American military man, comes his American wars.
“How Would Your Mother Feel,” “Iraq War Announcement,” “Bored Minds,” “War and Reputation” are protest poems, two words that I believe make perfect sense. Poetry has, and will always be, a protest. Though it was the first literary form and it will be the last, it’s always in rebellion against its own form, its own society. So this should make the poet a revolutionary, though not necessarily the writer. Be it a Shakespearean sonnet and its love complaints or a scattered Jazz, non-conformist poem, poetry protests mores, love, styles, grammar, and certainly current events, but most of all, poetry is a protest against the writer. A writer should always strive to be a poet. The writers of Epics dealt with more than just Romans and Greeks at war, their poetry dealt with afflictions between our souls and ourselves; how we react to the past when we know war isn’t just a screaming infant that will grow out of it, but a constant of the human condition as well as civilization. Do we face defeat and act tragically nostalgic like the Greeks or do we remain stoically Roman? Life in our post-9/11 society is more than George Bush. It could easily be more sinister, or, if one allows, simpler; either way, poetry should never consist of jokes the most witless laugh at. Poets should leave the peasantry to the pundits. For the Epics, the folly of a past leader is for overly sentimental Greeks. Tyrants and their tired politics make any current event seem a little bit more than a pit of Hell, but in the underworld Dante didn’t just concern himself with the devil. In poetry, each line should be a new. Poetry brings new philosophy, new truths, and new ideas for the everyman—rebelling against TS Eliot’s elitism, which is what Meg Francis does sexually, but not in regards to political ideas. It’s a shame, because poets are the unacknowledged legislators, after all. Since criticism is subjective, I will say that the politics are lacking but the poetry certainly is not. Looking past the politics, the lines in the protest poem are incredibly imaginative. Meg Francis lifts up Lady Liberty’s skirt in “War and Reputation: The Myth of Superpower”, showing off her “megaclit of copper” (28). The Poison Sex Queen has something very intuitive and indelicate to say about the boys coming home wrapped in flags. With every fallen body is a buried body, and our Sex Queen wants the bullet drenched bodies alive and breathing, and all for herself. “The sex does not bother me/ It’s the war that invokes/ Heartache, shame, disgust/ Change the sheets/ never see you again/ Hurt of holes & holy/ Torn skin” “The Sex of Life” (92) She doesn’t pay lip service to the fallen, she just wants to serve them with her lips.
Though she is light on the political science and heavy on the politicking, Meg Frances deserves her allusions to Whitman, her lines of sexual freedom and understanding will be with a reader for as long as the sun is. Her images leave a reader uncomfortable and changed. She is a poet as free with verse as her Poison Sex Queen is with her body. The poems concerning faith, race, a dark take on Amy Tan’s mother/daughter relationship, and above all, sexuality, are too good to read just once. Meg Francis comes from the future to prepare the reader for what they will read in years to come.
Mood, that's what Peycho Kanev writes. The poet taps out poetry that is colorless, smoky; images such as "Empty Space", a poem that leaves the reader "in an empty bed/ with the swirling smoke/ and the burnt desire." Pecyho's poetry has soul, the kind of soul that's only found in the atmosphere of old black and white movies.
A collection of poetry should not be a jumble of stanzas and haphazard, leap frogging images. A collection should contain moving images and motifs instead of plots and a story; things more than the book's binding and glue that keep it together. Time, for Peycho's narrator, as in the same for Keats, is always against the poet. There's immediacy, an urgency shared by all artists, it's the anxiety of artists: Time. "While Shaving" and "Metronome" are excellent poems that convey this worried hurry.
Writers write about writing; sometimes their characters and narrators write about writing, too. Peycho Kanev's Bone Silence stands alongside James Joyce, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, and Charles Bukowski, all who were writes that wrote about writing. This style has a side effect that is rare for readers. It causes the reader not to break any reading taboos about blurring the writer and the narrator. Additionally it's enjoyable to read about a writer finding the right words. Writers know what to do when the words come, but waiting is a beast that is never tamed, as seen in "Passage" and "Status Quo". In these poems, poetry is the focus of the poetry. In "Easy Afternoon" God is poetry and poetry is God, but in the presence of the almighty, the reader counts the limited commodity of life and treasures the experience in its seasons of stagnation and weird, quirky conversations.
Peycho's voice is the voice of an internationalist ("living in three continents") that has been warped by seeing what every college graduate is told to see--the world. The atmosphere, the mood, of the book says that the world is much smaller than any map or desk top globe lets on. It's so small, in fact, that the human imagination hasn't the elbow room for its art. But the imagination much like the human it resides in can make a habitat of any environment.
The poems in Bone Silence reflect a small world. But it's not paranoia out to get the reader; when all the lights are out and something soft and classical is playing like in "Sitting in Wolf's Apartment" or "Some Poetry"; as a candle dances shadows behind the furniture, that's where Bone Silence is, shifting, between light and dark. Buy this book of visions. Buy Bone Silence. Read Bone Silence then put it on your shelf, but you won't forget it.